U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) has sent an August 23, 2013, letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen about “the ongoing problems with the Public Health Information System (PHIS) used by the Food Safety [and] Inspection Service (FSIS).” Citing reports that PHIS recently experienced a system-wide shutdown that lasted three days and allowed “millions of pounds of meat products” to leave processing plants without being tested for E. coli, DeLauro has asked USDA to provide a record of similar major incidents as well as an “analysis of the problems with the system, the impact on food safety and steps being taken to remedy these problems, including those related to software and connectivity.” She has also asked for details about the parameters of the PHIS contract “that ensure long-term solutions are made to issues that arise in the system,” in addition to “the metrics included in the contract and an evaluation of those metrics to ensure the PHIS is meeting USDA’s goal of providing real time sampling of meat products and analyses that identify any issues before an outbreak occurs.”
“The multitude of problems with the PHIS include, among others, deficient software, system errors, outages, high maintenance needs, and loss of connectivity,” concludes DeLauro. “These issues are system-wide, occurring not just in certain rural areas, but all across the United States. Most concerning, these issues lead to inspectors spending more time addressing PHIS problems than conducting inspections, as well as delays or cancellation of product sampling.” Additional details about the most recent PHIS shutdown appear in Issue 495 of this Update. See Rep. Rosa DeLauro Press Release, August 23, 2013.